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‘Sea change’ in county health system could put Preckwinkle, commissioners closer to the helm
In the month since Preckwinkle made the push for more oversight, the health system has paused plans for a new Provident Hospital and ousted its chief financial officer, and Preckwinkle has hired a new deputy chief of staff to serve as her liaison to the system’s board.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times
by Rachel Hinton

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle visits John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in 2012. File Photo.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle visits John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in 2012. File Photo.
John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times

Sweeping changes that would give Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and county commissioners more oversight and power over the county’s health system are expected to pass out of committee Wednesday, amid promises that the revamping will still allow hospitals and clinics to be run “independently.”

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, is one of the chief sponsors of an update to the ordinance that originally gave the health system its independence. He said he doesn’t expect any pushback when the matter comes before the County’ Board’s Health and Hospitals Committee Wednesday.

“I think we’ve got everybody on the same page,” Suffredin said. “There are a lot of changes happening, and what we needed to do was have a realignment between the two boards and the two staffs. ... What we have right now is a balance and cooperation that will assist us in being there.”

Commissioner Larry Suffredin

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin at a County Board meeting in 2017. File Photo.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

The updated language of the ordinance, which was provided to the Chicago Sun-Times, gives Preckwinkle more oversight over the health system board through the power to have a direct appointment on the panel, which would go from 11 to 12 members, if the updates are passed.

The move for more oversight comes after the health board ousted former CEO Dr. John Jay Shannon in November. County sources said at the time Preckwinkle — who appoints the 11-member board from recommendations made by a nominating committee — had been concerned with the direction of the health system. The proposed changes also include making the appointment of the next CEO or interim CEO subject to the “advice and consent” of the board of commissioners.

They also require the CEO to meet with Preckwinkle or her appointment to the board every month to talk about operations issues and “set uncompensated care policies and determine the [Cook County Health] legislative agenda” among other things.

Preckwinkle’s push for more oversight came last month when she sent a memo to commissioners calling for “enhanced collaboration” with the independent board that now runs the Cook County Health System. The county’s health system s a $2.8 billion operation that oversees Stroger and Provident hospitals as well as health care at Cook County Jail and other county sites. The health system also conducts a managed-care program called CountyCare.

Stroger Hospital in 2012. File Photo.

In the month since Preckwinkle made the push for more oversight, the system has paused plans for a new Provident Hospital, ousted its chief financial officer, Ekerete Akpan, and Preckwinkle has hired a new deputy chief of staff, Otis Story Sr., who will serve as her liaison to the system’s board.

Story served as the CEO of East Orange General Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey from 2015 to 2017 and was hired within the last month, Nick Shields, Preckwinkle’s spokesman, said.

In a statement, Shields said the hire will “enhance the County’s support of” Cook County health, since Story will have a day-to-day focus on healthcare. “

“Story is a longtime healthcare executive with a career focus on safety net hospitals,” the statement continued. “A strategic advisor for [Preckwinkle’s office], Story’s day-to-day portfolio will include assisting the Chief of Staff in the development of policies, programs and other executive functions related to CCH.”

Suffredin said he believes the proposed changes will still allow the health system board to “have the operational and ministerial authority to run the hospital independently.”

“There’s an old expression that we’re all performing in a one-act play that we’re writing at the same time,” Suffredin said. “Health care is changing radically ... we will have to find a visionary CEO who will have to find a visionary CFO and have to roll with the changes coming from the federal and state levels.

“This is clearly a sea-change time at the county health system, and the hiring of a new CEO and CFO are going to really put a mark on what the future is going to look like, and if we do this right, we’ll have a well run and well operating governance,” Suffredin said.

 



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